“…Of course I care,” he said, the tones of a hurt child weaving their way through the bluster.
“Then help me,” Andi said. “Both of you, help me! We’re talking about some strange guy no one knows, who wormed into your circle of friends and now…? He may have kidnapped a little girl! She could still be alive, and all I need is help from…!”
Some sense, some outer vibe, told her she was shouting. It told her everyone else in the cafeteria had gone quiet, she was shouting so loudly.
It just didn’t tell her quickly enough.
One of the teachers monitoring the lunchroom made her way over to their table just as Andi stopped yelling. “Is there a problem, Miss Brennan?”
Andi turned to the matronly teacher. “No,” she said, trying so hard to soften her voice it came out as a mousy whisper. “No problem.”
The teacher took her by the elbow and steered her away from Eddie and Cy’s table. “Maybe it’d be better if you sat with your friends,” she said, walking toward the flags’ table.
“I’m not hungry,” Andi said, and pulled her arm away from the teacher in as subordinate a manner as possible. The teacher looked at her, then back at the guys, and shrugged.
“Suit yourself,” she said. “You can go the library, if you want.”
Andi held her head high and got out of the lunchroom as quickly as she could.
Before the door had closed behind her, the chatter started up.
People gave her a wide berth the rest of the day, and Andi couldn’t help but soak in the irony of it all. Everyone had been fine and welcoming to her until she re-associated with Cy and Eddie.
With that weighing her down, she stayed after school to help with the last dregs of the dance-planning. Everyone was muted and hesitant around her, as though afraid she’d go off on them, too. They smiled and nodded as she made suggestions and tightened up schedules, and she knew full well it wasn’t out of respect or friendliness.
Only Wren stood by her and, gaining Andi’s full gratitude, actually criticized her once or twice when Andi misspoke or missed a detail. You could hear the tension in the room draw like a bowstring when Wren said, “No, dummy, it’s such and such…” but Andi was thankful for someone treating her like a normal person.
Likewise, the flag corps practice. Andi went in expecting timidity and eggshells, and was nearly knocked over as her team hugged her, all dozen of them at once, crying and cheering.
“We missed you soooo much!”
“We were soooo worried about you!”
“It’s soooo good to have you back!”
Andi soaked up the love and well-wishes until she almost felt normal again, then set to work whipping the squad back into shape. The week’s routine took form, and she grew satisfied it would be 100% by the upcoming pep rally.
Wren walked her out to where the late bus waited, idling, its engine pluming exhaust into the darkening October afternoon.
Between Andi and the bus, leaning against the flagpole, waited Eddie. He tossed off a salute when he saw her.
“You need me to handle this?” Wren asked.
“No,” Andi said. “And don’t French him, either.” Andi turned back to her. “I’ll be okay. See you tomorrow.” Wren took the hint, squeezed Andi’s shoulder, and cut left to the big bike rack where her ten-speed was one of only two remaining.
Andi strode the distance between her and Eddie quickly, calves aching from walking in formation with the flags for an hour.
“What can I do for you, Eddie?” she asked, allowing him his usual once-over of her. “I’m going to see Benjamin, if that’s what you’re going to ask.”
He raised an eyebrow. She could just picture him doing the maneuver in a mirror until he got the smart-assery quotient just right. “Seriously? I’d be surprised if his mom let you within a mile of their house. Now, his burnout dad, that’s another…”
“I’m not going now,” Andi said. “Tonight, when everyone’s asleep.”
The other eyebrow went up to visit its fellow. “Wow. Rebel, rebel, aren’t you, Miss Brennan?”
Andi rolled her eyes. “What do you want, Eddie? The bus is about to leave.” A few other straggling students made their way out of the building, shuffling toward the big orange vehicle.
Eddie sucked at his teeth. “I need you to ask him a question. And it’s not about Jason.”
“Then wha–” The bus sounded its horn. “…Skip it,” Andi said. “Sneak over there and ask him yourself.” She turned and ran. The bus driver pretended like he was closing the doors, but opened them again as she reached the bus.
She got to her seat and plopped down as the other students continued to mill about. She leaned against the window, feeling the cool glass press against her face, and wondered if she’d be able to pull off the plan she’d made for tonight.
A fist banged against the window, the brief shock rattling through to her jaw and cheekbone, and she pulled away from the window with a start.
Eddie jumped up and knocked against her window a second time.
Andi popped the latches and slid the window down what meager distance it would go. “What?”
Eddie peered up at her, frowning, one hand at his brow to shield against the setting sun. “My question,” he said.
“What? What is it?” The bus jerked and began to roll.
“Ask him,” Eddie shouted over the engine, “how I was able to shoot lightning out of my hands!”
The bus pulled away, Andi too stunned to say anything as Eddie, and the school, receded into the distance.
Dad was going on about ‘that damn school’ again when she got home, and Andi wondered if he’d been grousing all day.
Mom intercepted her inside the front door and gave her a hug, which immediately put Andi on alert. Dad was the physical one, not Mom.
“Honey,” she said. “I’m sorry, but the school called this afternoon. They said you got into a fight at lunchtime with one of the boys that vandalized the Harts’ house.”
“That damn school, poking their damn nose into everyone’s damn business,” Dad could be heard to announce from the den.
“Are you sure you don’t want to stay home a few more days?” Mom asked. “Just until this awfulness completely blows over?”
“I’m fine,” Andi said. “I’m just fine, okay?” She started to move past, but Mom snagged her by the elbow.
“All right,” Mom said, a bit of sternness creeping into her voice. “But if you’re going back there…well, we don’t want you associating with any of those boys anymore.”
“What?” Andi dropped her backpack from nerveless fingers.
“Your father and I have talked about it, and we know they must have pressured you into going along with them and tearing up those poor folks’ house. You don’t want to throw everything away by getting mixed up with criminals like that. I know…” and she paused, sniffed, “I know it hasn’t been easy for you growing up, moving from place to place, and we’ve always tried to give you as much freedom as we thought you’d earned. But we can’t let you ruin your life by falling in with a bad crowd.”
“We’ve made up our minds,” Mom said. “Stick to your electives, student council, and all of that. That’s how you’ll get past this. But you are not to speak to any of those boys ever again. Understand?”
Andi stayed quiet and fuming long enough that Mom had to say “Understand?” again, her tone suggesting Andi not make her ask a third time.
“Yes,” Andi said. “I promise not to see any of them again.”
“Okay,” Mom said. “Thank you,” and then went in for another hug.
Andi watched her leave for the kitchen, then went down the hall to her own room.
Once there, while waiting for supper to get ready, Andi finished making plans to visit Benjamin that night.
Today’s Words: 1358
Total Words: 25808
Notes: The four of you who have been reading these posts will notice this one is three days late. Well spotted!
I’m attempting to write a Halloween-themed horror novel in October! Visit Day Zero for more information or Day One to read from the beginning, and check out Countdown to Halloween for more blogging that’s altogether ooky!
(And the cat is Valentine — I figured the presence of a black cat would make things that much more Halloween-y!)